Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, a 2020 Newbery Honor Book, may be more disturbing than encouraging.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian Heidicker. Henry Hold, so19, 313 pages

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: hard to say.

Deep in Antler Wood on a chilly, smoky autumn night, seven little foxes seek out the storyteller in Bog Cavern to put a shiver in their paws. Are they “brave enough to listen and wise enough to stay to the end”?

The first story features Miss Vix, a bold and clever teacher who is suddenly beset with the Yellow (rabies, apparently), and attacks the litter who were formerly her beloved students. Mia is the only kit who escapes, and once her mother hears, both flee the den to seek shelter elsewhere. Was that scary enough? Then how about this: a lowly runt named Uly has six sisters who torment him mercilessly. But there’s even worse to come when “Mr. Scratch” turns up—a cruel fox who despises weakness of any kind, especially in his own son. Uly barely escapes the wrath of his father, only to find himself alone in the hostile wood. Next, Mia’s harrowing experience with a human—a writer of animal stories, in fact, who keeps a furry and feathered chamber of horrors in her cozy hut. Mia and Uly will meet up and face new dangers together, but by the time the storyteller comes to the end of their saga, only one little fox is left to hear it.

Bruno Bettleheim (in The Uses of Enchantment), Walt Disney, and G. K. Chesterton all knew that a good scare, wrapped in a cloak of magic and mystery, can help prepare young children for the uncertainties of real life. That’s the purpose behind these scary stories, “like the bright and dark of the moon”: to “shine a light of good in the world. They can guide your muzzles. They can help you survive.” At the end, night terror emerges into rosy dawn. Scary Stories has been compared to Watership Down, with similar natural perils and triumphs. Fair enough, with one major difference. The little foxes have no transcendent mythology to encourage them—no El-arairah to guide them to the afterlife, no Lord Frith to worship in his blazing beams. As such, even though our heroes come to a peaceful end, it is an end. Terrors must be bravely faced, but why? Mia and Uly have made legends of themselves, clearly implying that the young ones must do the same. But most of us are sadly inadequate to that task, and Scary Stories seems more disturbing than hopeful.

Considerations:

  • The scares are truly scary (you may never see Beatrix Potter in the same way again!).

Overall rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview: 3
  • Artistic/literary value: 4.5

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More at Redeemed Reader:

Speaking of Watership Down, here’s our “Farewell to Richard Adams,” the author, who died three years ago.

Fairy Tales aren’t like they used to be: here are my thoughts (and G. K. Chesterton’s) on “The Invasion of Fairyland.”

Though it’s not summer yet, see our list of “Fairy Tales (and More) for Summer Reading.” And one of our favorite fairy tales is George McDonald’s The Light Princess, out in a new edition.

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Janie

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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